If you’re anything like me, you’ve thought about and talked about your classroom library more times than you can count. I’ve read numerous articles, blogs, and professional books about the best way to organize and structure a library and I’m still not sure that there’s a perfect solution out there! I think that the structure and rules that will work best for you depend on several variables: your philosophy towards independent reading, the assessment measure(s) you use to level students, the age/grade of your students, the amount of space you have, etc. After changing and re-arranging several times, I finally settled on a method and have stuck with it for the last four years. I’m not promising that how I run my library will be a perfect fit for your classroom! But, hopefully it will help give an idea of what has been successful in one classroom and is easily adaptable for yours!
Each classroom in our building has several low, metal bookcases, which are used to house both materials and books. I personally would love a few taller cases to take full advantage of the space we have, but we have strict policies on what we can bring into the classroom. So I try to utilize what I do have as best as I can!
I’ve placed the shelves in an L-shape to form a nook. It makes the space a little cozier and attracts students to spend time there. I’ve always been a little (extremely) jealous of those classrooms I see on blogs and Pinterest that have couches, comfy chairs, book lofts (!), and thick, fluffy rugs where students can curl up with a good book. All of these are strictly illegal in our rooms. However, I was able to get foam squares from Garden Ridge to put in the nook that make it a little more comfortable for students to sit on the floor. (No, they’re not quite the same as a Pottery Barn Kids couch, but hey - it beats hard linoleum. And actually, my kids all run to sit on the squares when it’s time to meet as a group. I really need to get a few more to make the space bigger!)
After much debate, I’ve divided my books into baskets by genre. I’ve placed fiction books on the longer side of the “L” as I have more of these and non-fiction books on the short side of the “L.” Each basket has a label with a colored sticker. Each book inside the basket is labeled with the same colored sticker. For example, all of my mystery books have a red “M” sticker on the back and the mystery basket has the same matching red “M” sticker. This helps students return books to the correct bins when finished. Chapter books go in small baskets on the lower shelves while picture books go in larger bins on top of the cases. I place magazines and other periodicals in magazine files from IKEA.
I’ve leveled most of my books by AR level. This isn’t my leveling system of choice, but it is what my building has adopted. So, this makes the most sense and is easiest for my kids to find texts. A few years ago, I stayed late several nights one week and labeled each book with a level. It seemed to take forever, but was wonderful when it was finished! Now, I only need to label new books as I add them to the nook.
In this area, I also keep:
- Book hospital. This is simply a basket where students place books in need of repair. Having the basket keeps students from always coming to me with these books. Instead, they just place them in the bin and I check it every week or so.
- Book recommendation sheets with container of thumbtacks. Students fill these out when they finish a book they consider to be a “STAR.”
- Book check out sheets. Students can sign out books that belong to me for one week. They are responsible for writing down their name, title, date checked out, and then looking at the calendar to see when their book is due. Once they figure the date, they write this on the check out sheet. They may check out one book at a time and cannot check out another until they have “checked in” their original book. All this entails is writing down the date they returned the book and putting it back where it belongs.
I’ve purchased most of my bins from Dollar General and Odd Lots. Years ago, I started buying bins whenever I could find them cheap. I wasn’t thinking about colors, just grabbed a bunch that were on sale. I’ll be honest - it drives me nuts that my bins don’t all coordinate. And I’ve considered many times getting rid of the ones that don’t match and start over or at least organize the basket colors by genre codes and re-label them. (I mean, check out that orange basket in the fiction section. UGH!! OK - I know I’m ridiculous… but I just can’t help it!) However, I don’t have the money to start over and as of right now at least, don’t have the time to reorganize and re-label based on genre codes. Just something to keep in mind in case you’re starting from scratch and are a little picky like me. Hopefully my extreme pain and disappointment over mismatched book baskets will save you a bit of your own!
Besides the mismatched baskets, my only problem with my nook is the number of books I have. When I set up my classroom in the fall, all of my baskets are packed full of books and it seems that I have way too many. However, as soon as kids start choosing books and filling their boxes, my library seems to look like a ghost town. I also feel a little guilty about the fiction to non-fiction ratio. So I’ve found a couple of ways to address this issue. First, I supplement with books from our school library. Every month or so, I check out a large number of books sets that fit the levels of students in my room. I place these books in a separate area and teach kids how to tell the difference between a book that belongs to me and one that belongs to the library (mine are labeled on the back covers and have my name on the insides or bottoms; the library’s are labeled on the front covers and/or spines. If you’re just starting out, it’s helpful to find out how your library labels its books and then label yours in a way that is different!). Of course, I always have students who just put books back wherever without much thought about where they should go. But, for the most part, this mini-lesson helps keep books organized and separated.
The second way to supplement the library is by finding cheap book sources. There are the usual places: garage and yard sales, Half-Price Bookstores, Barnes and Noble’s bargain shelves, etc. But last year I learned of a great service called Book Sale Finder. You go to the site and create a free account. Enter parameters for your search and it will return lists of book sales happening in the area you choose. Many of these are Friends of the Library sales at public libraries. Here you can get boxes of books really cheap and many of these are hardback or coated paperbacks! You can sign up for alerts whenever sales are near you so that you don’t have to keep checking the site.